Disney tells a magical story

How Disney's president underlined the company's essence

Big, profitable corporates are not the flavour of the month with the public. So if you're such a company, how do you remain connected with your audience? Take a lesson from The Walt Disney Company.

Disney is in multiple businesses and multiple markets - film; TV; animation; theme parks; cruise ships; merchandising. What draws all of this together and stops us thinking of Disney as an American company making lots of money out of kids?

It is the consistent presentation of Disney's 'essence' - magical storytelling. It contextualises all its comms. It is credible to audiences and no-one else can own it.

Take Disney/ABC Television President Anne Sweeney's recent speech to the Royal Television Society about the digital future and her interview beforehand on the Today programme.

Business presenter Simon Jack had introduced her by talking about Disney being a $40bn colossus; within a minute she had him repeating her messages about Disney having 'an authentic voice' (as you would expect of a magical storyteller).

Challenged as to whether Disney creativity was drawn from focus groups, she explained that 'we would just make the same shows over and over again if we only asked kids if they liked our shows' (not very magical). Instead, she said: 'Our conversations with kids and parents are about what's going on in your life ... who are your heroes?' She dangled that superbly and then told the interviewer that their heroes were 'mother, father, brother, sister'. Beautiful.

She controlled the whole encounter and kept to the narrative. Even when she said that in her speech she was going to talk about some of Disney's process failures (to Jack's obvious astonishment) she followed this with 'our greatest successes (stories and shows) have come after our greatest failures'.

And his final question - 'what is the Disney culture? Part cult?' - was whacked out of the ground. She said Disney has a 'fantastic heritage and culture of storytelling ... (it is) our storytellers who take those stories and who create animation and live action series for us.' Word perfect.

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Andrew Caesar-Gordon

As well as identifying your corporate narrative, you need to find your organisation's essence - and apply it consistently.

Sweeney did this in her speech and media interviews. The Hollywood Reporter highlighted how she referred to Winnie The Pooh to illustrate Disney's approach to the digital age (Piglet's first thought every morning is 'I wonder what's going to happen that's exciting today?'). C21Media reported how Disney's apps were a major step forward in harnessing the potential of the iPad 'to engage users and combine storytelling with interactivity'.

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